In Everything Give Thanks

November 24, 2016 by

Today I realized that every time I sit to worship God I must locate and name my anxieties, and all the evil situations that I would “fix” if I could, and hold them up to God, saying, “Please take these from me, and give me a concrete assignment that I can actually do.” And I believe I got one, suitable for an old man like me to do today from his computer in Indiana, far away from the front lines in North Dakota:

I’ve seen a photo of an exploded concussion grenade, and a report that the Morton County Sheriff has denied letting his men use them. The photo could, of course, be a fraud on the part of the Water Protectors, but why would people at prayer to the Creator dare to lie in His holy presence? OK, then either (a) the sheriff is lying, or (b) vigilantes or paramilitaries not under his control are using them against the Water Protectors (off-duty deputies? hired goons from DAPL?), in which case he’s failing to maintain law and order. In either case he’s proved himself unworthy of further public trust, and so is the governor who’s backing him up, even in the eyes of the law-and-order advocates that have been supporting them. And if he’s telling the truth that his men haven’t been using them, then (c) there’s a black market in weapons of war that’s allowing civilians to purchase concussion grenades illegally. If this is the case, then there’s no excuse for the Obama Administration not to send in U.S. Marshals to protect the Water Protectors and wipe out that black market, and no excuse for the New York Times, the Washington Post, USA Today, and all the TV networks not to rush their top news-crews to the so-called “crime scene” on Route 1806 and explain to the nation what’s really going on there. And this I shall tell them all.

I have no doubt that God will indict the mainstream media executives for hushing up this week’s shameful replay of Wounded Knee. An all-merciful God may forgive, but a just God indicts, and unless they repent quickly, it will be terrible to have to answer for these crimes, these deliberate war crimes of omission decided in boardrooms by comfortable men in suits – who cannot remain comfortable for long. The ridicule and contempt that the U.S. media will be held in by the media in the rest of the world will be as nothing in comparison with the steady direct gaze of the Creator.

Today is Thanksgiving Day, and I wish everyone at Standing Rock – and everywhere – a blessed day and a visitation from the spirit of thankfulness. “In everything give thanks,” advised the Apostle Paul (1 Thessalonians 5:18), advice that sustained me once as I was being taken to the ER with a pain level I was cautiously estimating at 8.5. I knew I must either start shouting obscenities or repeating “Thank You, Lord,” and I can now highly recommend “Thank You, Lord,” or “Thank You, Mother” if you prefer, as a good all-purpose mantra for all occasions when life gets unendurable. I can’t explain what it does or how it works, but there’s heavenly light in it. In all humility, I’d recommend it both to Water Protectors mending from the recent attack and to the guilty attackers, and their accomplices, now standing before the judgment seat of God.

The Election-Eve Prayer Vigil

November 7, 2016 by

There was an Election Day-eve prayer-vigil for the nation tonight, and I was there. I am praying for the healing of a nation that seems, in many ways, broken. You may ask me what I mean by calling it broken: don’t we have food on the grocery-store shelves, intact roads, a stable currency, and public education? Yes, we still do. But there’s been widespread erosion of public trust in our dominant institutions – government, the media, the electoral system – and it’s infected our trust in our neighbor as well. We don’t trust the once-relied-on sources of truth to tell the truth. We don’t trust the traditional guardians and promoters of the common good to care about the common good, or if they do, to understand what it consists of. My neighbor to the East thinks the scientists are lying when they talk of climate change. My neighbor to the West thinks the elections are rigged. To the North, my neighbor thinks the economy is rigged, and hoards gold against the day that the riggers spring the trap on the rest of us. To the South, my neighbor hoards ammunition against the day that everyone becomes an enemy. I have my own mistrusts. The situation is not helped by the many people who, whether on orders from above or in the interests of their stockholders, routinely tell lies and bend the rules in order to make sure that the “right” thing happens: the crude-oil or fracked-gas pipeline goes through, the new pesticide gets approval, the for-profit prison continues to get an uninterrupted supply of able-bodied inmates. Fortunately, the one authority-figure I trust remains in authority, and I vote for that fair, merciful, always-truthful, and almighty Person every day when I say, “Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done.”

I Abstain from Voting

October 27, 2016 by

I’m a Friend who’s felt personally called to lay down voting. I can’t, in any case, vote for any candidate empowered to authorize the use of lethal violence against anyone, or I become a killer by proxy, thereby unfit to be a member of Christ (Rom 12:5, 1 Cor 6:15, 1 Cor 12:27, Eph 5:30), who taught love and forgiveness of enemies, the Lamb who died before He would hurt another person. But I vote every day for God to remain the world’s almighty ruler when I pray “Thy kingdom come.” It’s not just a figure of speech. Please think about that, Friends, as you read this excellent article by Paul Buckley:

Why Quakers Stopped Voting

I should add that my witness against voting (which is partly an outgrowth of my call to be a hands-on healer, which I saw required me to relinquish all adversarial positions vis-a-vis the people I might be asked to pray for – cf. 2 Tim 2:24) doesn’t stop me from demonstrating and entreating, and from fasting and praying for good secular government at election time. At the upcoming election I’ll be praying particularly for the healing of our multiply divided and spiritually wounded nation.

Earlham Students Support the Standing Rock Witness

September 5, 2016 by

Earlham College and Earlham School of Religion students will be staging a prayer witness and teach-in, beginning at noon on Wednesday, 9/7 and continuing at least until the end of the week, at “the Heart” at the center of the Earlham campus in Richmond, Indiana. These actions will be in support of the Camp of the Sacred Stone, an encampment of over 4,000 Native Americans and their supporters at the Northern tip of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation where the Cannonball River joins the Missouri near Cannon Ball, ND.

The Camp, whose spokespersons have asked for prayer support as well as material support from elsewhere, is engaged in a peaceful witness against further work on the 1,168-mile Dakota Access Pipeline, which was to cross the Missouri River just a half-mile upstream from the reservation. In spite of the encampment’s non-violent nature and location on the Dakota/Lakota nation’s sovereign territory, the local sheriff and the pipeline company have both called the protest “unlawful,” North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple has declared a state of emergency, and Lieutenant Governor Drew Wrigley has threatened to use his power to end the encampment. Private security forces have used attack dogs and mace on unarmed protestors.

The Earlham students’ witness aims to increase public awareness of the confrontation taking place, of the underlying issues, and of the Camp of the Sacred Stone’s expressed need for ongoing material and spiritual support. Some among the students also ask prayers for the repentance of the camp’s opponents.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Council has objected to the pipeline’s threat to the tribe’s drinking water supply, which is drawn almost exclusively from the river, as well as to the tribe’s air, sacred sites, culturally important landscapes, and its very future. Opponents of the pipeline, noting the frequency of pipeline ruptures, say “It’s not that an oil spill might pollute the river, but that eventually it will.”

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, a sovereign nation occupying 2.3 million acres of land in North and South Dakota, with legal aid from the nonprofit Earthjustice, sued in Federal Court on 7/27/2016 for a preliminary injunction against further construction on the pipeline, which is to carry almost 500,000 barrels of oil a day from North Dakota’s oil fields to Patoka, Illinois. In 1958, without tribal consent, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had taken the Dakota ancestral land that the pipeline is now scheduled to cross for a damming project on the Missouri River. The Army Corps of Engineers, bypassing its obligation to consult with the tribe, fast-tracked the Dakota Access Pipeline by invoking the Nationwide Permit No. 12 process, which grants exemption from environmental-impact reviews mandated by the Clean Water and National Environmental Policy Acts by treating the pipeline as a series of small, unrelated construction projects. The tribe’s suit was heard by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on 8/24/2016. Judge James E. Boasberg declined to make a decision on that day, but promised one by Friday, 9/9/16.

To a Fellow Healer

August 20, 2016 by

I recently said good-bye to a younger healer with an outburst of parting advice that even surprised me with its simplicity and clarity. It went something like this. (Actually I said far less than this: what follows is what I’d like to have said:)

Don’t neglect your healing gift. If you’re carrying it, you have to be always ready to ask someone who’s suffering, “Would you like me to lay hands on you and pray for you?” (You’ll generally want a third party present, to witness that you didn’t lay on hands in an improper way. Also, before touching them, it’s advisable to ask, “May I touch you here?” and get an explicit consent. If touching them would tempt you erotically, do no more than take their hands in yours, or touch the persons’ bodies not at all, but at most lay hands on their “aura,” the energy-field a few inches from the skin surface.)

Neither force yourself to make such offers. Trust your own sense of when it’s appropriate to make the offer. You may get a sense that the Holy Spirit sent that person to you, or put it into your mind to make the offer. Remember that you’re not a magician and can’t guarantee results; it’s only Jesus Christ who does the healing. But in any case your touch can do no harm.

With practice you’ll develop a familiarity with prayerful mindfulness, and will know when to take your hands away. I always finish by saying aloud, “In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

Most important is to remember that this gift is precious and deserves to be kept in a clean vessel. Pray to be rid of selfish hopes – that your patient will like you, love you, look up to you, or desire you. Try to think of yourself, in this context, as merely a tube trying to reach to Heaven, not very interesting at all. If your patient does show signs of finding you interesting, be compassionate but remain professionally correct, and don’t flatter yourself. Pray that the Lord protect you against temptation.

A very, very important part of keeping the gift’s vessel clean is consecrating your mouth (and your writing hand, and your inward will) to the truth, and to lovingkindness. Mouth, hand, heart – they’re no longer yours, but belong to God; you’re their steward now. You may no longer curse – not to a person’s face, not behind their back, not even by proxy. If someone angers or annoys you, pray that God stop their offensive behavior and correct them. Wishing that they might be ashamed is not an evil wish, so long as you wish that shame drive them to repentance and not destruction. You must wish for the “bad guys” everything that you would wish for yourself and those you love.

If you find yourself smiling inwardly when others “do your cursing for you” by demonizing or belittling others, telling hurtful jokes, or making barbed accusations, remove yourself from the situation – turn off the TV set, end the conversation, excuse yourself and leave the company – and pray the toxins out of your system. Try to be patient, and keep asking God’s help; there are a lot of toxins. These are the social and emotional toxins that pollute the air we all breathe and the water we all drink. But God wills that we be freed of them.

Remember that by agreeing to serve as one of the Lord’s healers, you’ve asked to be developed into someone whose words have the power of coming true. To be entrusted with this power, you must show that you can be trusted to use speech only to bless and heal. You’re being watched – but fortunately, by Someone who delights in forgiving, so ask forgiveness as often as you need to, and delight in your all-forgiving God as God delights in having an all-forgiving child who’s growing increasingly like its Heavenly Parent.

For those who like illustrations, I’m attaching a copyright-free “iaomai” monogram. “Iaomai” is Greek for “I heal.”

I Heal

An Open Letter to the Governor of Indiana

July 31, 2016 by

The other day, the Governor of Indiana, or someone claiming to be the Governor, e-mailed me. The message began:

<Subject: What we need in a President
7/29/2016, 1:07 pm
From:Governor Mike Pence
Friend,
I can’t wait until we have an America we can both be proud of again.
When we have a President who looks out for Americans first…. A President who will Make America Great Again! I can’t wait until we have a leader like Donald Trump as our next President….>

I might never have thought to write anything to Governor Pence, ever, had he not started the conversation. But then the impulse to write back wouldn’t leave me. I prayed that if I wrote, it would not be from tainted motives or contrary to the Lord’s will. And before I went to bed, this is what I wrote:

Governor Pence,

Today I got an e-mail, evidently from you, under the subject line “What we need in a President,” urging me to give money to help Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. As a citizen of the kingdom of Jesus Christ, I don’t vote in U.S. elections or give money to candidates, but simply pray to the Lord that we be given the government that’s best for us. But that’s not what I’m writing to you about. I’m writing to you as a fellow Christian to reconsider your involvement with Donald Trump. I think your conscience must be uneasy about being “unequally yoked together with an unbeliever” (2 Cor 6:14). Whatever Trump may say about his faith, he seems to worship only himself, and to serve only the cause of self-glorification and getting his own way. I think that he might easily be one of those who say, “Let us do evil, that good may come” (Rom 3:8) in pursuit of these selfish ends. Absent repentance, I expect his path to end in shame. It may also hurt many more people than he’s hurt already.

If Trump reaps a harvest of guilt and shame for himself, then so will you, as his willing partner. But more than that: you will dishonor Jesus Christ, whose follower you claim to be, and you will have to answer to Him, your Lord, about the infamy you have brought upon His church by your efforts to make Donald Trump look like something he is not. “Woe to them that call evil good, and good evil,” warned the prophet (Isa 5:20). Trump was recently charged in a lawsuit with having had sexual relations with a thirteen year-old. The case was dropped by the court, but are you satisfied, Governor Pence, that Trump was innocent of this? You must know of Trump’s reputation as a ruthless landlord, employer, businessman, and founder of a so-called university that defrauded thousands. Can he be trusted not to defraud millions of trusting citizens, and bankrupt the United States as he’s bankrupted his own enterprises?

There’s still time, Governor Pence, to back out of your Vice-Presidential candidacy, distance yourself from Donald Trump, and let someone else run in your place. Thereby you will salvage your own honor, and more importantly, the Lord’s, which has been tarnished enough over these two thousand years from being invoked by merciless tyrants and shameless hypocrites. If you do make this retreat from evil for the Lord’s sake, I think you’re sure to find the Lord standing by you and preparing the way before you.

Wishing your soul well,
John Edminster

Only God can answer that of God in another person

July 17, 2016 by

We Quakers like to talk about “that of God in the other person,” a phrase from George Fox whose use among Friends became broadened beyond its original context largely through the influential writings of Rufus M. Jones (1863-1948), so that today one hears Friends speak as though “that of God” were part of the mortal individual, and “answering that of God” in that individual were something that another mortal individual could do as a sort of pious courtesy, like bowing and saying “Namaste.” North American Friend Lewis Benson (1906–1986) worked tirelessly to expose this misconception, but it persists nonetheless.

This may be largely because we don’t want to have that of God answered in us. It will upset us. It will penetrate our defenses and touch parts of ourselves that we’ve locked into a closet to silence their screaming: places of terror, rage, deep shame, overwhelming grief. These parts of ourselves frighten us, so we’ve set up standards of politeness and other cultural patterns to protect ourselves, and one another, from having to face them, although the brainwasher, the waterboarder and the deprogrammer may find ways to pick the lock anyway. Fortunately, there is One who loves us who also knows how to pick the lock: God. And God’s touch heals whatever it exposes. But we may not know that until it’s happened to us. (That’s why repentant slave-trader John Newton called it “Amazing Grace:” it is amazing.)

This might explain why there are so many low-voltage Quaker meetings where the hour of worship is filled with messages that don’t come from the Holy Spirit, but from the interesting thoughts of the mortal individual, and the hearers, predictably, aren’t deeply affected. A psychotherapist might call this phenomenon “collective resistance;” an engineer might call it a homeostasis mechanism.

To “answer that of God in another person” is to speak to that of God in them, in words or meanings that That-of-God-in-them wants conveyed to them. Got that? Let’s say you’re an unhealed mentally ill person, an unrecovered addict, a troubled conscience, some sort of broken person who’s patched yourself together with duct tape in order to keep going on with life, but you’re really not OK. There is that of God in you, but you’ve silenced It, duct-taped your inner ear closed. But God still wants to save and heal you. So God, who can do everything, raises up a prophet to speak to you – to speak God’s words to you from outside, since you resist hearing them from the inside.

The “prophet” may have no idea that he or she is functioning as God’s prophet. The words that smite your conscience may have been written weeks ago by a journalist, or centuries ago by a dramatist. They may be said to you through sobs by your partner or child, or icily by the boss who’s firing you. God, who created everybody, can use anybody. But the words hit home. Which is to say, they answer that of God in you.

But “answering that of God” in another person is not something we can do in our own will. We like to hope we can, by praying hard enough, or lobbying the other person sweetly enough, or threateningly enough, or with enough allies on our side, or persistently enough. My mom desperately wished she could get my dad to stop drinking. But she had to die before he hit bottom and, by the amazing grace of his Higher Power, sobered up. This is why I resist saying “we Quakers answer that of God in other people” like “we speak truth to power” or “we live in that power that takes away the occasion for all wars.” It’s wishful thinking. We answer that of God in other people if and when God wills. When it does happen, it’s really more truthful to say that God answered that of God in the other person, and then to give thanks for the miracle that God worked.

Black Lives Matter in the Kingdom of God

July 12, 2016 by

There are many men and women living today who can witness that the kingdom of God is no mere figure of speech, but a real government whose citizenship they enjoy, under whose protection they walk, and to which they’re bound by civic duties they discharge gladly, even when it costs them pain. Whether or not they speak a Christian language, they’ve said in their heart, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done,” and their rightful Ruler has graciously responded by so arranging events that they can no longer doubt the exercise of a mysterious and benign oversight over their steps, even if their path may lead through unfair treatment, disease, disability, oppression, and abuse, to the death that eventually comes to us all. Though this may be incomprehensible to people to whom it hasn’t happened, something has occurred to awaken a faith in them that may afterwards be dimmed by setbacks, but can no longer be snuffed out.

A necessary step in this development of faith is a growth of trust in the character of God. We might begin with the intuition that, full though the world may be of injustice, our sense of justice must have been built into us by a Creator who loves justice also. (“He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? he that formed the eye, shall he not see?” Psalm 94:9 KJV). Then how can such a God allow the cruel to kill the innocent? We don’t know why God allows what God allows, but our hearts assure us that God never wills evil. For God is love (1 John 4:8), and Love desires what benefits all. If we are made “in God’s likeness,” this likeness includes the freedom to choose the right thing or the wrong; and fear, hate, selfishness and ignorance often tempt us to stray. But faith gives us hope that God corrects wrongdoers, in this life or another, and that God “wipes away all tears from the eyes” (Rev. 7:17, 21:4) of those who have been wronged.

Black lives matter in the kingdom of God, where God delights in all of God’s children, and wishes us all to give one another joy and not grief. This can only happen when long-standing patterns of injustice have been corrected, not by vengeance-begetting vengeance, but by truth and reconciliation. But for this process to begin, someone must go first. And to help create an atmosphere in which it’s safe to go first – I speak especially to my fellow enjoyers of white privilege – you must ask forgiveness of someone you’ve wronged, or extend forgiveness to someone who’s wronged you. It needn’t be across racial lines; it can be your own parent, partner or child. If you engage in a predatory or oppressive practice, even one as “mild” as hurtful speech about absent third parties, you must stop. Contagious hard-heartedness has spread far enough. It’s time for a contagion of tenderness.

“God’s Beloved Darlings” Means Everybody

May 8, 2016 by

In one of my classes at Earlham School of Religion I recently spoke of “God’s beloved darlings, which means everybody.” The words that had come out of my mouth both surprised me and didn’t surprise me at all:

For we all, Hitler and Stalin included, as well as dogs, cats, and earthworms, are the souls that God loved enough to create, and through their eyes He/She looks out on creation, and through their hearts He/She experiences their thoughts and feelings.

Even if we choose to damn ourselves by loving darkness rather than light (John 3:19), and putting the greatest possible separation between ourselves and God’s truth, fairness, mercy, goodness and beauty, that can’t stop the Omniscient One from experiencing our sufferings as we experience them, or the Most Compassionate One from extending the greatest possible compassion to us: “If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there,” Ps 139:8 KJV.

I wish that I might have no other heart than God’s to love with, no other wisdom than God’s to guide that love with, distant though that goal might seem to me now. But is it really so distant? All that’s necessary is the removal of the walls that partition off “me” from my infinitely good Creator. Anyway, what better thing is there to ask God for?

The Friends’ Testimony of Harmless Speech

February 12, 2016 by

If my people, the Quakers, could make themselves famous for one thing, I wish it could be abstinence from hurtful speech. They already have a reputation for non-violence, and a reputation for truth-telling: why not put these together as the Friends’ Testimony of Harmless Speech and preach it on the street and the Internet, in the bus queue and the laundromat?

Well, I think I already know one reason why not: and that’s that “harmlessness” sounds wimpy. We’ve been infected by the mainstream culture of the World, which teaches that you’ve got to project toughness, and be a little scary, to be worth anything. The slogan “Speak truth to power,” popular among some Friends, suggests an adversarial standoff in which Quaker rightness wilts Establishment wrongness, and the once-mighty grovel and slink off into nothingness. But this is not loving, this does not encourage repentance and reconciliation, but enshrines unforgiveness. It is an evil fantasy, and can only retard the owning of our own shadow on which our personal healing depends.

Think again about harmlessness: Jesus Christ was harmless, and taught a gospel of harmlessness: “love your enemies… if your enemy compel you to go with him a mile, go with him twain.” So did the Buddha; so did this nation’s own saints William Penn, Sojourner Truth and Martin Luther King, Jr. These were not wimpy people.

There is another reason we don’t embrace a testimony of harmless speech, and that is that we like the gratifications of sarcasm and, let me call it by its right name, cursing our oppressors under our breath. We don’t want to think of doing without it, because it’s one of those things we tell ourselves we have to do for stress relief — like drinking (if we drink) or masturbating (if we masturbate). But do we? It takes only a little more time, and a little more mindfulness, to hold up our anger at our oppressors before God, and pray that they be granted the gift of repentance. This can turn ill-will into good will without even requiring that we stop being righteously angry.

But what about that “natural” hunter-instinct in us that rejoices in the kill and celebrates victories over adversaries?

The Muslims have a custom of saying “Bismillah,” “in God’s name,” whenever they take an animal’s life. I try to ask this of myself when I slap a mosquito, or kill a flea I’ve combed out of the cat’s fur: a tiny moment of giving thanks to the Creator of Life for His/Her permission to take a life, and of prayer that God might somehow bring good effects from my authorized act of destruction. To call on God’s name seems to have a way of taking away whatever malice I might have had toward the offending creature, who was, after all, my Beloved Lord’s creature and may have been dear to Him, who feels the suffering of everything that suffers.

The vow of harmless speech I’m encouraging people to take, and particularly my fellow Quakers, is not a frill, a luxury. The planet is cooking, and the people that might stop this human-made doomsday process aren’t stopping it. I suggest that their powers to do good may be mired in the adversarial processes they’re engaged in – which are everywhere: in the insanely costly electoral competitions now consuming this country, in the sports arena, in the marketplace and in the police station. Did I mention our now-permanent-seeming state of war? Our attention is consumed with efforts to control the behavior of other people by countering their will with ours. And this all starts in the human heart, which thinks to relieve its suffering by generating barbed words, which we’re too heedless to disarm before we let them out the gate.

If everyone agreed that there is a God, and our lips and minds were God’s property, and that no will but God’s ought to be done on earth as it is in heaven, the task of persuading all our brothers and sisters to commit to harmless speech would be a no-brainer. Mouths would be holy, and no longer be seen as places from which both blessing and cursing might come. But we don’t have that agreement to build from. All we can do, each of us, is try to model the world we want to see.